Judicial Intervention Sought to Force Illinois to Provide Critical Resources for People with Developmental Disabilities
Low wages for disability service professionals result in needless suffering and violation of federal law and court order.
CHICAGO (April 10, 2017) – The State of Illinois is failing to fulfill its promise to people with disabilities to provide opportunities to live integrated in the community, according to a recent filing in federal court. The filing in Ligas v. Norwood asks a federal judge to compel the State to provide the resources necessary to comply with the Consent Decree in the case. The action on behalf of people with developmental disabilities specifically notes that low wages being paid by the State to disability service professionals prevent people with developmental disabilities from living meaningful lives in the community. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires the State to assure that people with disabilities can live in the most integrated setting possible. The filing makes clear that Illinois is failing this test.
Funding for people with developmental disabilities has been continued at past levels during the current budget impasse because of court orders. But that funding, as the filing shows, has been woefully inadequate to accomplish the mandates of the Consent Decree. As a result, an Independent Monitor in Ligas has found the State out of compliance with the Decree for the last two years.
“The promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act is for people to have the opportunity to live fully integrated lives with the supports they need to be successful,” said Barry C. Taylor, Vice President for Civil Rights and Systemic Litigation at Equip for Equality and lead counsel in the Ligas case. “By failing to allocate sufficient resources, thousands of people with disabilities are being deprived meaningful community opportunities guaranteed them by the Decree.”
The court filing details troubling reports from family members of people with disabilities and their service providers documenting the real human suffering and impact of the insufficient resources provided by the State.
Community reimbursement rates have been frozen for nearly a decade, while costs continue to escalate. The low rates have created crisis conditions in the staffing of these services. With insufficient staff, services to people with developmental disabilities are cut short. People—who are supposed to be integrated into the community—are instead finding themselves increasing isolated and segregated. The homes and facilities have been forced to decrease staff ratios, frequently to only one staff for 4-8 residents. This means that staff cannot regularly take the residents out of the house and they cannot work on building skills and independence. They are left with simply trying to maintain safety. Instead of living full integrated lives, many of these class members are suffering enormous hardships, including social isolation, a dearth of meaningful activities, a lack of skill development (and, for some skill regression), and, in many instances, anxiety and depression.
“Our clients do not have a meaningful opportunity to integrate into the community if there is not adequate staff to insure that they can engage in activities that give them an opportunity to live full and productive lives,” said Benjamin Wolf, Legal Director for the ACLU of Illinois. “Access to the community cannot mean being isolated in a small facility rather than a large one. That is what the State has forced on our clients.”
In 2011, a federal judge approved a Consent Decree in the Ligas case to provide people with developmental disabilities the opportunity to live in settings designed to promote independence in daily living, community integration, and economic self-sufficiency, and to interact with non-disabled people to the fullest extent possible. While thousands of people with disabilities have moved into the community as a result of the case, the State has failed to meet the requirements for providing the services they require in the community. Without these services, community integration cannot be achieved. Individuals are left segregated in their new environment and at risk of returning to a more restrictive (and more costly to the state) institutions.
U.S. Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman is asked in the filing to find the State out of compliance with the Consent Decree and order the State to provide the resources necessary for people with developmental disabilities to receive the services mandated by the Decree.
Mr. Taylor and Mr Wolf are joined in the filing by Equip for Equality attorneys Laura Miller and Amanda Antholt, ACLU of Illinois attorney Gail Waller, as well as by Scott Mendel at K&L Gates and William Choslovsky at Fox Rothchild, who represent a group of intervenors in the matter.
Questions for Class Counsel may be directed to Barry C. Taylor, Equip for Equality at 773-562-9567 (cell) or 312-895-7317 (work).
Last updated: April 12, 2017